'Globalisation with localisation' ~ Boon Hui

Boon Hui Khoo, the former President of Interpol elaborated on the measures taken by Singapore during the pandemic at Synergia Foundation Forum.

Boon Hui Khoo (Paul):

He is the Senior Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs in Singapore. He was the former Commissioner of the Singapore Police Force who also served as President of INTERPOL from 2008 to 2012. He is a Commissioner with the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC).

Singapore is known for its controlled, meticulous, and focussed approach towards governance, and with COVID-19, it was no different. However, in the first week of April, the number of confirmed cases saw an exponential rise. Most of them were reported from the dense migrant worker accommodations. The country is now under a partial lockdown. Schools and non-essential businesses are closed. This second surge is suspected to have sprung from asymptomatic travellers who returned to Singapore and subsequently infected their families who were not in quarantine.

International policing cooperation and globalisation

Where does an international organisation like the Interpol stand during a pandemic such as COVID-19? According to Mr Boon Hui Khoo, it is business as usual. "We are still fighting the bad guys. But, of course, without the ability to meet in person, it does affect the amount of camaraderie and trust on which many police organisations working together depend on."

Fortunately, in a lockdown, physical crime is down in Singapore. But cybercrime -- attacking home networks, healthcare facilities, and research institutions -- is on the rise. Add to this fraud in supply of medical equipment and by established companies, who are distressed and don't want to go bankrupt.

Where government institutions are weak, criminal organisations are coming in. For example, in Africa and certain parts of Latin America, vigilantes are enforcing social distancing. They are producing and delivering food to the neighbourhood so that it enhances their control over the area. That is a very dangerous situation, says Mr. Khoo.

Highs and lows of the pandemic

Dwelling on Singapore's fall from the 'gold standard' grace in terms of efficiency in handling the pandemic, Mr. Khoo says it is now staring at 11,000 cases, with 1,000 cases coming in just four days. He attributed this to employing unsophisticated contact tracing methods as a deliberate choice. 

Singapore abides by two inherent principles -- preserving individual privacy and rights, and giving equal opportunity and care to all. 

Elaborating, he said when Singapore was hit by SARS, there were only 238 cases and 33 fatalities. The police had helped the Ministry of Health contact trace. That was quite an achievement. "But, this time around, we didn't opt for technologies that are more intrusive because it was an issue of privacy and rights. We shut down for five to six days, but that was too late. That's the price we had to pay because we didn't want to be perceived as a state where the police could have overarching powers." 

Singapore also prides itself in treating everyone on its shores equally, whether a foreigner or a resident. All are being given free treatment in the same hospitals, and get equal access to equipment and medicine on a par with citizens. The country's policy is: if one has contributed to the Singaporean economy in any way, then you have equal entitlement. 

Singapore has faced four waves of infections -- first from Chinese tourists; then from Malaysians who travel to Singapore to work; third from students overseas who returned home; and finally from migrant workers. All are being treated equally, and a lot of resources were put into buildings and temporary hospitals.


On the globalisation front, Mr. Khoo said unfettered globalisation would no more be the norm. Instead, there would be a move towards globalisation with localisation -- starting supply chains domestically --- which would possibly result in sacrificing efficiency, choice, and quality. This could possibly lead to geopolitical tensions. 

However, Singapore is a price taker --- it doesn't set rules; it follows the rules. It needs globalisation, and so follows appealing strategies to overcome the crisis. 

If you set up a business in Singapore, you have a global supply chain to manage, and the government will not requisition or stop you from exporting. Otherwise, no one will come to Singapore to set up plants, says Khoo.

When the SARS outbreak took place, Singapore being one of the largest manufacturers of byproducts of petroleum, and ExxonMobil and Shell make polypropylene, it did not resort to hoarding supplies. The firms pulled out their re of ventilators, equipment, electronics etc. and the rest were exported. 

On the issue of China's perceived global might, Mr Khoo revealed that there was a feeling that businessmen in his country were looking towards China, as that's where the money is. But he banks on the fact that the Singaporean government and its people are well-informed and wary.

Still fighting the pandemic as is the rest of the world, the country is hoping for a vaccine or a cure or even herd immunity. But it is cheered by seeing the foreign workers in the dormitories who are young and healthy, and not showing devastating symptoms. "It could be a good idea to start protecting people who are weak and old. In the meantime, international travel will be curbed, and Singapore will suffer as a transit point, concludes Mr Khoo.